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Majoring in dissent

Majoring in dissent

Neha Dixit chronicles the protests against Delhi University’s new controversial four-year degree programme
In 2004, when a second-year undergraduate girl student was thrown out of her paying guest accommodation in Hudson Lane and assaulted by the property owner, we learnt our first major lesson in dissent. Out of 37 students in my batch in Miranda House, close to 25 were not from Delhi and lived in cramped, dictatorial accommodations.
There was empathy and outrage and thousands of teachers and students from across North Campus united to demand that vice-chancellor, Deepak Nayyar, devise a way to get all paying guest accommodations approved by the University. We succeeded partially. This learning of the right to dissent, to ask uncomfortable questions and fight against passivity has been Delhi University’s legacy, and the core education for most of my batchmates.
It is this legacy that has been murdered in the last two and a half months since the four-year undergraduate programme was introduced in DU.
It started with the news about Sanjaya Kumar Bohidar, associate professor at Shri Ram College of Commerce, who was roughed up by the private security guards of vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh for wanting to leave the hall where the V-C was about to address a conference on transformational leadership. To defend the culture of debate and dialogue, more than 100 students and teachers rose to safeguard their rights at the arts faculty in North Campus.
Regardless, the V-C’s hired bouncers disrupted students and teachers merely sitting on the lawns. An outstation student talking about the problems of paying Rs 3,000 for a 6×6 room; a blind student highlighting the difficulties in studying maths and science foundation courses in the new FYUP, considering most blind schools do not teach either after Class VIII; a group of girl students talking about the fight they have to put up against societal pressures to study, which will get tougher because of the additional year, were all seen as threats, and the students were assaulted.
On May 19, hundreds of teachers, students and sympathisers collected outside 10 Janpath, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s residence. Policemen and policewomen, Rapid Action Force personnel, water cannons and more than 300 protesters all stood under the murderous heat of this May afternoon. The OBC/SC/ST/Left had also come together under a combined front called the Joint Action Front for Democratic Education.
One Rapid Action Force personnel, a sardar, called me aside and asked, “This four year graduation, will it be implemented in Punjab as well?” I answered, “It’s possible.” He turned back and looked at his colleague and began to fume. His reaction spread like wild fire on the other side of the barricade. Another constable said, “Madam, we are with you, just that we are wearing the uniform.”
They even passed us several water bottles till late afternoon when Sonia Gandhi agreed to meet only three representatives to receive the memorandum.
 Former DU alumni and supporters started an online petition to oppose the hasty implementation of FYUP, but to no avail.
It pushed social networking wars to the edge. Filmmaker Mira Nair endorsed the petition, saying, “Any university must teach you to question. We don’t need more scholars in the marketplace.”
More than 4,000 signatures were collected and handed over to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Pranab Mukherjee and human resources development minister Pallam Raju.
On June 3, boys and girls, men and women, assembled outside India Gate at 6pm. While families picnicked and played frisbee, the sloganeering protesters were told that Section 144 had been imposed near India Gate the night before. Middle-aged parents, senior teachers, young students and the differently abled were scattered on the road when three DTC buses intersected them.
The police tore placards, broke candles and dumped the protesters in the buses. Women protesters were told, “Mardon se durr hatt”. Two hundred protesters were picked up and detained at Parliament Street police station. The youngest detainee was two years old.
“I will tell you my contact details if you give me yours,” said one protester to a constable. The police collected names of detainees in exchange for their signatures on the petition to oppose FYUP and were let go.
On June 5, the HRD ministry gave the final nod to FYUP. In one of the foundation courses, ”Integrating Mind, Body, Heart”, students will now be asked to find moments in their lives that most resemble episodes from Gandhi’s life. Students will also have to maintain a compulsory diary for a comparative study.
When these student notes will be compared to DU’s mercenary actions in the future, Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement will rise from the textbooks to preserve the student’s legacy: right to dissent.

The V-C’s fall from grace will also be documented in these notebooks.

Published in Time Out Delhi, June 21 issue

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